Carol Metcalf was shy growing up, so much so that, "I could hardly say my own name," she remembers.
Shyness certainly took a back seat to an insatiable drive for accomplishment in the horse business, for Metcalf's list of wins is so impressive it is difficult to imagine her being reticent about any aspect of her life.
At her ranch in Pilot Point, Texas, Metcalf and her husband, Steve, and her son, Carter, have made horses their lifestyle. And it's paying off handsomely. Their business is called, not surprisingly, "Metcalf Quarter Horses."
To excel to Mecalf's level in an organization with 318,000 members is no small feat in itself. Here's but a sampling of top-of-her-game wins in AQHA-sanctioned events:
1991 Reserve World Champion, Junior Western Pleasure
1992 World Champion, Senior Western Riding
1993 Reserve World Champion in Senior Reining
1997 World Champion, Two-year-old Western Pleasure
1998 First, Junior Western Riding at the Congress World Champion, Junior Western Riding
1999 First, Second, Junior Western Riding at the Congress
"I've been riding since age 4, and my parents bought my first horse at 10. My parents weren't wealthy, and I rode anything that came along."
As an up-and-coming rider, Metcalf remembers that in terms of shows, "We did whatever came around. We didn't start doing the Quarter Horse shows - they were secondary, because open shows were so popular." She was 13 and rode what she calls "an all-around mare." Adaptability and versatility, at that stage in Metcalf's life, were key.
Metcalf grew up with an affinity for training, she figures. "I enjoyed, and still do, the mechanics of it - What makes them do what they do. It all came fairly easy to me."
Recognized as an excellent coach for the novice rider, Metcalf has a few unwavering ground rules. "As a rule, we start with softening exercises.
Most novice folks let a horse lay on their hands, very hard, very heavy on the face. I like to walk and jog lots of circles, supple them up the neck and into the mouth, pull them from side to side. That means walking in a circle, pulling the nose, or flexing it right, then giving to the left. I believe that when you take hold of a horse, you should 'ask' it for its face.
I try to encourage my students who do this to keep the same speed, hold until the horse gives face, then give back. It's a take and reward system."
Metcalf attributes some of training methodology to her earlier California background. "When I grew up, you spent two years riding a young horse in a snaffle, then you rode in what's called a 'two rein,' with a tiny pencil hackamore for two more years. So the whole process took as much as four years. Now, we ride two-year-olds in a bridle. We take more shortcuts in this business overall, instead of using the traditional methods. If I'm allowed, I always want to take more time. It just leaves a better foundation.
"There's such a push, it seems, to get them into the show ring. If we determine that a youngster can't mentally or physically handle the competition pressures of the Futurity, for example, we really like to give them an extra year."
Metcalf doesn't succumb to ribbon-chasing pressures, and in fact, is looking ahead at her own showing goals. "I'm getting more into reining, and I love doing cow horse (reined cow horse). I've got a three-year-old snaffle-bitter, and I want to show him in the four or five-year-olds. You know, I don't play pool - my hobby is working cattle, doing the reiners. That's what's really fun for me."
The multiple World Champion maintains a nonsensical approach to training students. "Every student has his or her own individual qualities. We appreciate the good qualities, but focus on the weaknesses and try to bring them up to the same level as the qualities. Then, it all balances out."
Balance: in training, in the show ring, and in her family. It is possible for this outstanding horsewoman to "have it all."
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